Tales from Malta
WELCOME back to wba.co.uk for the latest instalment of the feature completely dedicated to West Bromwich Albion fans.
We are travelling all over the world to hear our supporters’ stories and listen to their experiences of following the Baggies.
This week’s guest comes from the tiny European island of Malta. Conrad Chircop’s Albion story is below.
Conrad, thanks for taking part. Please introduce yourself.
I’m Conrad Chircop, 41, born and bred in St. Julians, Malta. I work as a cyber security specialist for an online gaming company. I have diverse interests which include swimming and running, as well as following English (and Scottish to a lesser extent) football all the way down to the National League quite keenly.
How many years have you supported the Baggies for?
26 years now. Saturday, January 6th 1990, as the FA Cup 3rd round results came trickling through the radio, I received a call from John Peel. John was (and still is) the Malta Albion Supporters’ Club Chairman. He sent me a batch of programmes to read and a membership application form. If the start of my Albion odyssey was pretty unconventional, then the background to it was nothing less. Back in the summer of 1989, I dedicated a considerable amount of time to write to almost every league club for programmes, autographs and other stuff. The replies were varied in content. On the Albion front, Dr. John Evans who was the club secretary back then, opted to write an engaging letter which encouraged me to correspond with him and follow the club closely. Dr. Evans went the extra mile in passing on my letter to the Malta branch via the main Supporters’ Club, and the rest is history.
How do you keep up with all things Albion out in Malta? Are you able to watch our matches?
The internet and our Premier League status have dramatically increased accessibility to Albion content and matches. I am able to watch our games live on television. The earlier days were a sterner challenge, though the local Supporters’ Club used to circulate match programmes and detailed collections of photocopied articles on the Albion. The radio was the only means for following Albion results live. Well, not quite. I had called every local radio station on the day we beat Port Vale at Wembley, with no success. The 7am sports news on the following day had me yelling in bed!
Is there a big football following in Malta? In addition, do you know of many other Albion fans in Malta?
Given the size of our island, foreign football leagues and international football has a substantial following in Malta. The major English and Italian clubs have thousands of fans. Other clubs have notable support, though the era of physical branches has dwindled in favour of virtual alternatives due to the shift towards the use of social media. Albion’s complement stands at about 25, most of whom have been following the club through the toughest of times. The local Supporters’ Club was formed in 1983 with Sir Bert Millichip presiding over the opening ceremony. We’ve also had a number of British Albion fans subscribing as members with our branch. I owe my love for the Albion to the local branch and to fellow local members who played a critical part in my Albion formation. My experiences as an Albion fan are not unique locally. There are a handful of equally interesting accounts from some of these fellow members. We have been hoping for an Albion pre-season visit to crop up. That would be fantastic!
When was the last time you were at The Hawthorns? How often do you get to come back to watch a game?
That was in December 2014 for our 1-0 win over Villa. I have watched 17 home matches, three away matches and a single reserve game over the course of the 26 years. It should have been more considering that I visit the UK pretty often. I hope to get a couple of matches in later on this year.
Do you have any interesting stories from your time following the club?
I have actually met the Chairman Jeremy Peace before on a train from London Euston to Birmingham New Street. The trip itself was bold. I flew into Heathrow on a morning flight, caught the said train, watched Albion beat Reading 3-1 and then flew back to Malta on a flight from Birmingham International some hours after. I found myself sitting opposite a seasoned Albion fan, Martin Rolfe from Newton Abbott, when to our amazement Jeremy Peace walked past us. We couldn’t resist introducing ourselves. I asked to take a photo with him. Thankfully he obliged and I had the pleasure of having a picture with the man who has been integral to our success in the last decade and a half. I was elated to experience the human side of Mr. Peace.
What about the players both past and present? Have you ever met any of them?
I always try my best to meet Albion personalities of past and present when I am over. I’ve met most of the players from the 1993/94 and 2009/10 seasons, the latter courtesy of a Malta Supporters’ Club visit to the training ground in March 2010. I especially cherish memories of meeting former players such as Ray Wilson, Derek Monaghan, Garry Thompson and Ally Robertson. I spent an evening with the latter last year when he visited our island. I have also come across former players online. Gary Hackett is one I occasionally get in touch with through a retro Albion Facebook page which I co-administrate, “Look Back in Albion”. I have also met five of the managers. Keith Burkinshaw in a fans’ forum in 1993, Ossie Ardiles in Malta, Roberto Di Matteo who I recall giving a press conference at the training ground with tea and flip flops, Pepe Mel after the Manchester United home game in 2014 and also Alan Irvine after the Villa game in 2014. Alan was a genuine person who was a pleasure to chat with. Equally impressive were the likes of Michael Appleton, Eddie Newton and Dan Ashworth.
What’s your fondest memory as an Albion fan?
I will leave out the promotions, last day survivals and Wembley trips because I wasn’t there in person unfortunately and I can’t claim to have experienced any of them. My fondest memory has to be the 3-2 win against Wolves in 1993. I was in the Halfords Lane stand and the atmosphere was electric. Bradley’s screamer remains my favourite goal. I actually met him pre-match before he enetered the ground and he told me Bob Taylor was out with chicken pox!
What is the best thing about being an Albion fan?
Following a club which left an imprint on the game, even beyond the British shores. From the Three Degrees , to building bridges in a post-revolution China, to having managers who shaped the modern game. The likes of Vic Buckingham and Don Howe come to mind. A club which distinguishes itself in epitomising the region’s ethos. Honest, hard-working and determined. The way the club is run in enthralling. As in real life for most of us, you have to earn your success and any associated respect. Albion’s historical success has been achieved in this manner. In my eyes, silverware is secondary to all of the above. Make no mistake, there are other football clubs who have a similar profile to ours. I can name half a dozen off the top of my head, however Albion was, is and remains my choice.
Which is your favourite stand at The Hawthorns and why?
I’ve been in all four stands although I regret never sitting in the Woodman corner. I have opted for the East Stand in recent years because it is my favourite stand for views and facilities.
Finally Conrad, can you put into words what West Bromwich Albion means to you?
Fulfilling. A source of pride, yet a source of humility and a reality check.